If the idea of “working the room” makes you cringe and the thought of small talk makes your eyes glaze over, you’re not alone. It’s not that I’m anti-social, it’s just that I would much rather have one or two meaningful conversations than biographical highlights from half the people in a room.
Most introverts are known for their distaste for small talk. Laurie Helgoe explains it well in her book Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. “Let’s clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people,” Helgoe points out. “We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.”
But you don’t have to write off big parties or networking events altogether. Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, shares 4 tips for steering small talk into more meaningful conversation.
01. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE THE FIRST TO CONNECT.
Walking up to someone is the hardest part of starting a conversation. Steer clear of interrupting two people in conversation as they are “locked in” to what each other are saying. It’s easiest to break into a group of three, or walk up to another individual who is standing alone. Extend your hand for a handshake and ask if you may join them.
02. BE ARMED WITH TALKING POINTS.
While the weather is often a very boring topic, getting snowed in with your entire apartment building may be an interesting side-topic to discuss. What did you do? What did you eat? Did you get together with neighbors and spend time sharing stories and watching movies? That’s a topic that can easily spin off into another comparable conversation, such as “Where will you vacation—somewhere hot I assume?”
03. PREPARE TO SHARE.
Even if you are a private person, a certain amount of self-disclosure is necessary for someone to make an evaluation on whether or not you are worth getting to know better. While too much information is a deal killer, withholding everything personal is also a sign that you have something to hide. “Oh, you vacation in Florida—wherein? I have a sister who lives in Tampa, and I love to visit and go out on the water . . .”
04. BE YOURSELF.
Stop comparing yourself to someone who you think is a better conversationalist. If you hold back because you think you aren’t as articulate or interesting, you will miss out on prime opportunities to meet new people and great contacts. In spite of what you may fear, few people judge others on their efforts to mix and mingle. On the contrary, you stand out more if you sit back and watch, looking as nervous and socially awkward.